By Jay Cook |
RUMSON – Piping Rock Memorial Park, one of the borough’s most active open spaces, will be redesigned this summer with plans to remove the existing tennis courts and create park space to support six different sports.
In a June 13 letter to residents, borough engineer David Marks said Rumson is on track to begin construction at the 4.3-acre park by the end of July. It’s situated opposite Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) along Forrest Avenue and also borders East River Road and Carton Street.
Rumson officials kickstarted this newest effort when they authorized a $900,000 payment from the capital improvement fund for the project at a June 12 Borough Council meeting. Two grants previously awarded by Monmouth County’s Municipal Open Space Grant Program will cover $387,000 of that amount.
“This is one park we did a little work in back in the day after 9/11, but we never did a full rebuild,” borough administrator Thomas Rogers said Tuesday.
The plans call for a natural grass multipurpose field designed for soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and practice football, as well as a 60-foot/70-foot baseball and softball field with new backstops and team benches. Rumson will install new perimeter fencing around the park, spectator bleachers and an irrigation system while also providing improved site drainage and an underground water recharge system.
The 9/11 memorials, flagpole and playground jungle gym will all be relocated to new locations along the Carton Street entrance of the park. A new playground is also coming in the updated plans. There will also be additional parking spots in both the Carton Street and East River Road lots.
The amenities not being carried over, however, are the two tennis courts located near East River Road. Rogers said those courts were used by Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School’s junior varsity tennis teams up until this past year. However, when Fair Haven opened the new tennis courts at Fair Haven Fields last fall, the high school moved all tennis activities there, leaving no need at Piping Rock Memorial Park.
“We feel as if the four courts that are in town more than make up for need for the tennis,” he continued. “We no longer need to support the high school, in a way. Now that gave us a blank canvas.”
Some unhappy residents, though, are still piping up about the park’s newest blueprints. Initial plans in 2014 called for replacing the grass field with a synthetic turf field and eliminating the baseball field there, but Rumson ditched that idea after input from locals.
Rob Thaler, an East River Road resident, has created a social media campaign with other neighbors called “Save Piping Rock” opposing the project. Thaler said Tuesday the proposed layout would change the aura of Piping Rock Memorial Park. The group is also opposed to eliminating the tennis courts.
“It no longer looks like a community park where kids are playing and people are walking around,” he said. “It looks just like the athletic fields for the high school.”
Rogers and Marks said Rumson went back numerous times to Monmouth County with site plan modifications over the past few years but eliminating the tennis courts allowed the baseball and softball field to stay there, he said.
The project will address the “very significant” need for recreation space in Rumson, Marks said. Bad weather and rescheduling games can increase field demands borough-wide. It also allows Rumson to seasonally rest its active fields during the year, an initiative from the Borough Council.
“Instead of taking a full rehabilitation, you can take a field out of commission for a season and aerate, reseed, give it time to come back to life,” said Marks.
The borough also held a public information session Wednesday evening to inform residents about the upcoming project, but Thaler said that simply wasn’t enough.
“That park has been an extension of my yard, at least as a child, cutting through it to go to school and hanging out there,” he said. “It’s like a transformative project. I just feel like there should have been more notification.”
Rogers, however, said Piping Rock Memorial Park will still hold its same charm.
“I think it’s certainly a neighborhood park,” he said, “which I think we’re keeping with the playground and the walkability.”
If construction starts on time, all work should be complete by mid-October with a reopening in spring 2019.
Piping Rock Memorial Park was acquired by Rumson in the mid-1960s through the state Green Acres program. According to history on the borough website, it was the estate of Rumson’s first mayor, Frank McMahon, before it became Peter’s Piping Rock, a restaurant in the 1940s. Rogers also said a bottling plant for Piping Rock Soda was also near the park in the past.
This article first appeared in the June 21 – 28, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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